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CEO Spotlight: CIBC's Victor Dodig

Interview by Beatrix Dart

CIBC’s CEO explains why he became chair of Canada’s 30% Club, and what his bank is doing to attract — and keep — top female talent.

BEATRIX DART: The 30% Club started out in the UK in 2010. What made you want to be a part of it here in Canada?
It was actually you who called me and said, 'Victor, what they are doing in the UK would be great for Canada; but we need some profile for it: Would you be willing to sign on as Chair?' And I said, absolutely. A month after I started at CIBC, we had a big kick-off on International Women's Day. The team from the UK came over to share their learnings to date, and from that point on, we have done things in our own Canadian way.

Talk a bit about how you tweaked the Club's mandate to reflect the Canadian environment.
The focus in the UK is on FT 100-listed companies. We cast a significantly broader net, to cover professional services firms — law firms, accounting firms and executive search firms — as well as listed companies. Our chairman called for us to have a minimum of 30 per cent women on our board, as opposed to simply aiming for 30 per cent. Our wording was very specific from the start, and we have now reached 35 per cent.

The two women we added most recently were technology executives, one from Silicon Valley and one from New York, both with an American perspective as well as a technology perspective. It's all about bringing talented people to the table with diverse expertise.

The second thing we did was to implement a targeted approach to the advancement of women in our C-Suite. We've added more women to our executive committee, and we now have a robust succession plan in place. For some time, we were so focused on strategic issues that that we missed the whole gender piece in a big way. As a result, for women now in their 30s and 40s, there has been a generational gap in terms of succession planning. But as indicated, we are working to address this.

If it's just white men and women running the show,
that's not diversity, either.
Tweet: If it’s just white men and women running the show, that’s not diversity, either. Read more: @RotmanExecutive

A lot of male executives say, 'Of course I want more women on our senior leadership team; I just don't know how to get there'. How are you going about it at CIBC?
A big part of this is measurement. I'm a big believer that if there is no concrete plan to get there, there is no hope of achieving any of these goals. Just talking about it and hoping that 'next year, things will change' won't work. To be clear, this issue is purely business: We will build a better banking business by having more diversity.

It's great that you view this as a business imperative — and that it's not just being addressed for 'social good'. Have you started to see some business impact?
I have. If I think about the senior women at CIBC and the impact they're having, it's amazing. I won't go into the specific details of their accomplishments, but I know for a fact that they have added a whole new level of excellence and engagement to our culture. The fact is, banking should not be a white man's culture: It should be reflective of what is going on in the outside world.

With respect to diversity, I think the next challenge for everyone will be, How diverse is your workplace? Because, if it's just white men and women running the show, that's not diversity, either. I'm very mindful of that, as we look at who our next generation of leaders will be.

As its title indicates, the 30% Club aims to have at minimum that many women in senior roles and on boards. Based on what you've seen, what will be the biggest challenge to getting there?
For us, a big part of it is convincing talented women that they can succeed here: They can have a family and a robust personal life and succeed professionally. In many cases, they don't believe that, because they've never received the right level of support or mentorship. Instead, they hear things like, 'Six weeks after giving birth, you've got to be back in here and give us some face time'. That is just not the case: Companies need to get better at giving other employees opportunities to temporarily fill these roles, and then step back when the aspiring female executive is ready to come back. It requires a mindset shift.

Banking should not be a white man's culture: It should reflect
what is going on in the outside world.
Tweet: Banking should not be a white man’s culture: It should reflect what is going on in the outside world. Read more: @RotmanExecutive

Is there a real-life story that indicates what this mindset looks like in action?
I know lots of young women who work on our capital markets floor, who are in here every Sunday, working all day. I have told them directly, 'You don't have to be here seven days a week in order to succeed!' I want them to recognize that face time is not the only way to move ahead at CIBC. Working smart and diligently, and gaining respect for what you do is what is important. But, it can't just be me; all of our leaders need to be saying, 'You can advance your career without working 70 hours per week'. As I indicated earlier, we are living with the baggage of some of our past decisions, but 20 years from now, this will be a much more balanced organization than it is today.

What about your own working habits? Are you setting an example?
This year, I have actually made a huge effort to be home at least two nights a week: Fridays for sure, and one other day. I'm really trying to change my habits, because I don't think being at the office all the time is a smart way to work.

What will success look like for the 30% Club, 10 years from now?
I believe that 20 years from now, we will have female CEOs leading at least 25 per cent of Canadian companies. But we all have to be mindful of how this ecosystem works: Everyone has to start now, looking at their pipeline and who they are hiring. If we all started doing that immediately, that would also indicate success to me. My dream is for Canada to have more companies with 30 to 50 per cent females on their boards than any other country in the world. I believe we can be a world leader in this regard.

Victor Dodig (UofT BComm '88) is President and CEO of the CIBC group of companies, Chair of the 30% Club Canada and a Catalyst Canada Advisory Board member. Previously, he led CIBC's Wealth Management, Asset Management, and Retail Banking businesses. Beatrix Dart is a Professor of Strategy and Executive Director of the Initiative for Women in Business at the Rotman School of Management. She teaches management consulting and corporate strategy with Rotman Executive Programs. She served as the Academic Director and Associate Dean for Executive Degree Programs until 2015. She chairs the steering committee for the 30% Club in Canada. This article was excerpted from the Fall 2017 issue of Rotman Management. To subscribe:

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